A former homeless young man who used to bed down in a cave on the Great Orme above Llandudno has been hailed as a role model after turning his life around.
Jamie McAdam, 29, from Rhyl, spoke movingly about the nightmare of living on the streets and suffering the humiliation of being urinated on by drunks when he was sleeping in shop doorways.
He revealed his inspirational story to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who was on a visit to ARC, Achieving Recovery in the Community, in Rhyl.
ARC’s dedicated staff helped Jamie get himself off the streets and take the first steps towards fulfilling his dream of a career in the catering industry.
Mr Jones was invited to tour the inspirational centre by its founder Ruth Cole, a former drug taker who earlier this year was the recipient of his Outstanding Achievement Award for her work with the homeless.
The drop-in centre, based at Canolfan Dewi Sant in Clwyd Street, was opened by Ruth in 2006 and currently provides emergency accommodation and other vital services, such as washing facilities and clothing along with phone and internet access, for around 140 homeless people each week.
Earlier this year, Ruth received the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Outstanding Achievement Award at a ceremony to honour community heroes.
Thanks to the crucial assistance he received from ARC Jamie is building a new life for himself and is a now a volunteer kitchen assistant at the centre.
Jamie said: “I’m originally from Rhyl, where I still live, and went into the care system when I was quite young.
“When I came out of it at the age of 18 I found myself with nowhere to live and for four years was a rough sleeper.
“I’d bed down for the night anywhere I could find, including in a tent or one of the caves under the Great Orme in Llandudno. I also found my way to other areas, like Manchester, London and Scotland, always sleeping outdoors.
“I eventually turned to drinking alcohol and dabbling in drugs because getting a little blotto helped take away the pain and uncertainty of being homeless.
“Being out on the streets was a terrible experience because people abuse you and you never feel safe. I’ve been urinated on by quite well-to-do drunken people in the middle of the night and some of my friends have been very badly hurt.”
He added: “I was eventually directed towards a night shelter in Rhyl and from there found my way to the ARC Communities drop-in centre about 18 months ago. It has been a real godsend for me and has helped turn my life around.
“I was sometimes able to get a bed for the night there and used the other facilities like the phone to get in touch with other agencies and start the process of finding myself a permanent place to live, which I’ve now managed.
“One of the most positive things for me is that I’ve started to do voluntary work at the centre. Before I became homeless I’d spent a bit of time in the catering business and now I’m doing four hours a day for a few days a week in the kitchen at the centre.
“I help make the tea and toast people in the mornings and prepare the hot midday meals people are served.
“I really enjoy it and I’m hoping it will help me achieve my dream of landing a paid job in catering.”
ARC, which was set up in 2003, is the brainchild of 50-year-old Ruth Cole, from Abergele, who had troubled teens and early 20s. She went off the rails but came through it and ended up going to university and getting a degree in criminology and sociology.
The charity has open access drop-in centres in Rhyl and St David’s Church in Colwyn Bay, runs the Roofless night shelter in Rhyl and operates a food bank in Conwy.
It also oversees two social enterprises – NOMAD, which provides outside corporate catering, and a community shop in Pensarn proceeds from which help pay for free facilities such as tea and phone use for vulnerable people in that area.
According to its new director of operations, Melanie Newport, the Rhyl drop-in centre is constantly busy.
She said: “We attract about 140 people a week, the majority of whom are from the Rhyl area. The centre is for the homeless, people who are vulnerably housed, which means they are in accommodation but have a chaotic lifestyle, have a history of drug or alcohol misuse or mental health issues.
“We have seven emergency beds available, which are very much in demand, and people can sometimes go on to a hostel for more intensive support and help with finding a permanent place to live.”
Ruth Cole said: “We have only three paid staff and a team of volunteers. But although we’re small I hope we make a difference.
“The idea is to forge partnerships with the various agencies which may be able to help those who come to the centre.
“Those who come here range in age from 18 to their eighties. Men and women who walk through our door are in real need and we are the first port of call for the desperate and the first thing we have to do is earn their trust.
“We’re open five days a week, from 10am until 2.30pm and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we re-open from 3-5pm. We’re funded by the Area Planning Board, which provides drink and drug services on behalf of the Welsh Government, but we’re seeking more funding from other sources to expand the service.
“At the ceremony where I received the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Award I invited Mr Jones to come to the centre to see for himself how it operates and it was a real privilege to welcome such a high-profile person here.”
Arfon Jones said: ““Ruth has dedicated her career to supporting and rehabilitating people struggling with drug and alcohol dependency and homelessness and her charity, ARC, has generated projects aimed at helping them back into stable and independent living.
“I was extremely impressed by my visit to the drop-in centre. As I realised from the 12 hours I recently spent on the streets of Wrexham to highlight the plight of homeless people, it can be mind-numbingly boring. People in this position drink or take drugs to take their minds off their situation.
“I really like what I saw at the Rhyl centre and I firmly believe that it should be a model for us to provide services for homeless people in a much more holistic way in other areas of North Wales.
“There should certainly be more places like – perhaps a network of similar drop-in centres strategically located right across the region.
“I believe that providing people who real facilities and something to do with their time would help to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.
“I was very glad to meet Jamie McAdam and to hear how the centre has helped him towards a better life.”